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Featured Graduate Student - Bram Wijngaarden

From the Spring 2001 sciencelines

Bram Wijngaarden, DØ, Catholic University of Nijmegen

Bram, please tell us a bit about your experiments here at Fermilab.

I've been at Fermilab for 20 months on an independent four year-contract with the project. I work on research 90% of the time and teach for the remaining 10%. I collaborate on the analysis of the data as my thesis. My favorite is the central part of the detector, the "silicon microstrip tracker." To put together the detector we have to test, diagnose problems or salvage any components of the detectors. We use volt meters, oscilloscopes and computers to measure the signals to be sure that the detectors are operating effectively.

Did you always plan to study science? What influenced you?

When I was young, I always read a lot. I went to the public libraries and used the science activity books to do the semi-magic activities. Of course, I built with Legos too. My parents were not in sciences by profession. My father is a humanities professor at a university and my mother is a high school English teacher. They always read a lot but generally in the areas of nature or biology. So, even in high school I thought more about literature and the "classics" than science. I was in a classical school and they did encourage physics, math and chemistry. I had very good teachers. My first physics teacher was very playful and explored area and force by thinking about pressure on the ground if a chicken had five legs, or circular motion of derailing trams. My second teacher was younger and not as playful, but passionate and provided extra lectures on Einstein, his life and physics.

Where did you study to become a Fermilab scientist? Were you always a good student?

I studied at the University of Amsterdam and became a physics major. It was fun! It was the best time of my life! I was very active in lots of activities and student organizations for physics students and student council for the faculty. We would do science fairs in the shopping square in Amsterdam showing experiments to the public like Van der Graaff generators, tricks with optics, sound and liquid nitrogen.

What involvement have you had with education?

I tutored early from high school and through university. Here I visited a charter school in Chicago to talk with students about the physics of sports. I found it very interesting. Not only did the kids argue about golf clubs and which ones to use, but they wanted to know about the black situation in the Netherlands. They were really surprised that we have Dutch rap groups.

Please share a little about yourself, such as your hobbies, family, etc.

I still love to read and still read science fiction and fantasy but classics and literature too. I've played the piano since age 9, taking lessons until graduate school, but I am still at the amateur level. I play mostly classics, but I've tried a little blues since we're in Chicago. My favorite way to relax is to cook. When I have the time, I'll spend a half hour or hour cooking. I do a lot of sports! I've played baseball, cricket, basketball, even being the MVP here at Fermilab last winter. But, my favorite is speed skating. I'm in a speed skating club and we work with the buddy system so us older ones coach the little ones.

What advice would you give students?

Always do things you enjoy and enjoy the things you have to do. Don't become a one-dimensional person.